An abortion wound up being a life-saving procedure for Ash – in several regards. (Credit: Photo by Mathias Reding, Pexels)

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our project on the importance of storytelling in the fight for abortion access.

At age 21, life was wholly different for Ash – and far more difficult.

“At the time, I was a very young, closeted trans person … residing in a shared space with my abusive [then]-spouse,” says Ash, who is now 32 years old. They were also in school, “scraping by.” And, Ash was pregnant – but this wasn’t a joyous moment. Rather, Ash felt “incredibly ill,” and soon learned that the pregnancy was incompatible with their body. Their doctor told them, in no uncertain terms, that they “would likely not survive childbirth.”

But Ash lives in West Virginia, where state laws on abortion – even before the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade – were restrictive. Those seeking one before a 20-week cut-off were forced – by law – to hear about their individual fetus’ development, as well as the supposed psychological risks of undergoing the procedure. (There is now a full abortion ban in West Virginia, with few exceptions.) 

Ash’s upbringing was ideologically in lock-step with state laws. “I was in a very Christian household where abortion was … one of the worst things that you could ever do,” says Ash (whose last name is not being used for privacy reasons). “And I did not share those views.” Their then-partner did, though. He wanted Ash to birth the child, then give it up for adoption – “despite the fact that it could quite literally kill me.”

Ash sought abortion advice while in the emergency room of a nearby hospital, where they’d gone to get treated for pregnancy complications – only to hit a roadblock. “I made the mistake of telling my nurse that I was considering an abortion due to my health, and being high-risk,” Ash says. “Rather than being offered sympathy, the nurse forced myself and my then-partner to hear … the heartbeat of our child – for hours.”

Ash then made an appointment with their gynecologist, which went just as poorly. “Despite this being the same doctor who told me [the dire risks of remaining pregnant], she asked me to reconsider having an abortion,” they recalled. “Instead of offering me assistance, she began to pray for my safety, and to make the ‘right’ choice.”

They added: “I was sitting in this room, in your typical paper-thin garment, while I was being prayed over to a God that I did not believe in … rather than being offered life-saving care.”

This was when Ash began having suicidal thoughts. “I was desperate. I was scared. And given that no one in my small town would remove this fetus destroying my body, I knew I needed to say my goodbyes.” Indeed, research points to a connection between abortion restrictions and suicide rates.

Ash, feeling like there was no other option, wrote “farewell” letters to loved ones one day, before driving to “what I had selected as my final resting spot.” 

On the way there, however, fate intervened. Ash drove past a graffiti-covered Planned Parenthood billboard during the drive – and something clicked. They slammed on the brakes, dialed the number on the ad, and connected with real, tangible help. Within two weeks of that phone call, they had their abortion. Soon after, Ash came out as trans to the staff who had assisted them, relieving themselves of another significant burden.

In several regards, “had I been forced to continue on with that pregnancy, I would not be standing here or sitting here to tell you my story,” Ash says. “They helped me to realize abortion isn’t a bad word,” as they had been taught growing up. “Abortion is health care.” 

Once Ash had gotten support, “that’s when I really noticed things in my life starting to change” – and not just in regards to their physical health. They say they were able to set personal boundaries, and tell bold truths. And, they began working as an advocate for other trans individuals, organizing community members into action in pursuit of LGBTQ abortion rights. 

Finding such care is, indeed, especially challenging for members of the LGBTQ community – despite them needing abortion access as much as, and in some cases more than, their cisgender, heterosexual peers. One 2019 study shows that access for transgender and nonbinary people, specifically, is further hindered by a disproportionate lack of health insurance and bigotry among those in the medical world, leaving many patients to consider more drastic alternatives.

The shifts didn’t stop there for Ash. “Since having my abortion, I have left that abusive relationship, and I’m in a much happier, healthier marriage,” they say. “I have had so many wonderful opportunities to not only share my story, but help my community.” 

Ash’s experience fuels the organizational work they continue to do to this day. “This is such a crucial piece of health care that anybody should have access to, no matter the reason,” Ash says. “You should not have to have a dramatic reason to obtain abortion care.”